It May Be The Next Biggest Thing
It was opening day for Shoptalk’s inaugural three-day retail revolution in Las Vegas. I say revolution because it had a high-energy revolutionary fervor about it. True to founder Anil Aggarwal’s objective, it brought together over 3000 attendees and speakers representing the entire retail ecosystem who addressed the issues, challenges and opportunities arising from this period of the biggest and most profound transformation in the history of retailing. And indeed, the genuine engagement, interaction and knowledge sharing among the old and new worlds were truly powerful and refreshing.
The day opened with a lively and entertaining chat between Lionel Richie and Dottie Madison, CEO of Gracious Home, about the launch of Lionel Richie’s home collection. It was a candid conversation and mega-star Ritchie made the case for his branded home line as an extension of his lyrical compositions with the overlay that simplicity and restraint is the hardest thing to get right. He also urged entrepreneurs to take risks and forget what the rest of the world advises. Passion and massive motivation was to become a recurring theme at the conference.
Then getting down to business, keynoter Jerry Storch, CEO of the Hudson Bay Company, focused on two of the main themes that would be repeated throughout the day in many of the sessions. First of all, he quickly and clearly debunked the myth, still held by many, that the Internet would decimate brick-and-mortar retailers. In fact, he pointed out the synergy advantages of the online/offline combination is driving pure e-commerce players like Warby Parker, Bonobos and even Amazon, to begin opening physical stores.
Along with this positive message of the convergence of the two platforms, he went on to point out that the term “omnichannel” is really misleading, and the term should more clearly describe distribution through “all channels.” In other words, a retailer can and should operate on all possible distribution platforms. The second theme, which was also repeated in various sessions, is that distribution can emanate from wherever the product may be at the time of purchase.
A third theme resonating throughout the conversation, and obviously the most important, which was refreshingly acknowledged by all of the new, younger, technology driven upstarts, was that the consumer is the “center of the universe.” They have all of the power. Not always articulated, but clearly implied in every single session, was the fact that technology for the sake of technology is a non-starter. Technology and the Internet are simply new powerful tools to enable providing consumers with unlimited and instantaneous access to whatever their hearts desire; wherever they want it, how they want it, delivering a great and credible value.
Following Jerry Storch’s presentation, Courtney Reagan of CNBC had a fireside chat with Ron Johnson, CEO of Enjoy. Ron provided the fourth theme of the consumer’s power. He expressed his vision of the three phases of retailing, from brick-and-mortar retailing, to e-commerce, and now finally, to what he calls personal commerce. In fact Enjoy’s model, is for the consumer to order an item on their site or from the manufacturer of the item and then making an appointment (think Genius Bar) for delivery to their place of choice by a trained expert who would then spend an hour, free of charge, explaining the product, how to use it, set it up, etc. In other words, Enjoy is the pinnacle of personal service.
A fifth theme, which was also an undercurrent of every presentation, was the concept of “big data” and the imperative to aggregate and understand how to use it to advance the personalization of the customer experience. The main stage presentations and “fireside chats” were amplified by the series of breakout sessions that bridged theory to practice with a day’s worth of case studies, best practices and conversations about the new wave of e-commerce.
With these highlights of the opening volley, I have every reason to believe the next two days will be equally revolutionary in the way in which this industry interacts, learns and develops synergies going forward. If so, it certainly will represent the next “biggest thing” in the way the retail community comes together to converge the best young, innovative entrepreneurial ideas with the wisdom and experience of the “legacy” retailers, to create an awesome future for the world of retailing.